WASHINGTON -- Republican U.S. presidential front-runner Donald Trump said Sunday the Middle East would be more stable with Moammar Gadhafi and Saddam Hussein still in power in Libya and Iraq, respectively, saying it's "not even a contest." Trump mentioned the countries in comparison with current efforts to drive Syrian President Bashar Assad out of power.

"You can make the case, if you look at Libya, look at what we did there, it's a mess," Trump said on NBC News. "If you look at Saddam Hussein with Iraq, look what we did there, it's a mess. It's going to be the same thing" in Syria, he said.

Asked by NBC's Chuck Todd whether the Middle East would be more stable with Gadhafi and Saddam in power, Trump replied, "Of course it would be."

Trump, who leads the field of Republicans seeking the presidency in the November 2016 election in public-opinion polls, has said he supports Russian efforts to fight Islamic State group militants, even though Russia has backed Assad. Trump said last week Assad might be replaced by someone worse were he to be ousted.

The White House opposes both the Islamic State group and Assad, blaming him for attacks on civilians that have radicalized the opposition. President Barack Obama warned Russia Friday that its campaign in Syria would pull Moscow into a "quagmire."

(Reporting by Emily Stephenson; editing by Susan Thomas)